Published May 17, 2021 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Micro and nanoplastics in the environment: Research priorities for the near future

  • 1. IMDEA-Water Institute
  • 2. Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Cartagena
  • 3. Departamento de Biología, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
  • 4. Instituto Español de Oceanografía
  • 5. EOMAR: Marine Ecophysiology Group. IU-ECOAQUA. Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
  • 6. Departamento de Química, Unidad Departamental de Química Analítica, Universidad de La Laguna
  • 7. Instituto Universitario de Medio Ambiente (IUMA), Centro de Investigaciones Científicas Avanzadas, Universidade da Coruña
  • 8. Departamento de Biología Animal, Universidad de Málaga
  • 9. Institut de Ciències del Mar-CSIC
  • 10. University of Alcalá


Plastic litter dispersed in the different environmental compartments represents one of the most concerning problems associated with human activities. Specifically, plastic particles in the micro and nano size scale are ubiquitous and represent a threat to human health and the environment. In the last few decades, a huge amount of research has been devoted to evaluating several aspects of micro/nanoplastic contamination: origin and emissions, presence in different compartments, environmental fate, effects on human health and the environment, transfer in the food web and the role of associated chemicals and microorganisms. Nevertheless, despite the bulk of information produced, several knowledge gaps still exist. The objective of this paper is to highlight the most important of these knowledge gaps and to provide suggestions for the main research needs required to describe and understand the most controversial points to better orient the research efforts for the near future. Some of the major issues that need further efforts to improve our knowledge on the exposure, effects and risk of micro/nano-plastics are: harmonization of sampling procedures; development of more accurate, less expensive and less time consuming analytical methods; assessment of degradation patterns and environmental fate of fragments; evaluating the capabilities for bioaccumulation and transfer to the food web; and evaluating the fate and the impact of chemicals and microorganisms associated with micro/nano-plastics. The major gaps in all sectors of our knowledge, from exposure to potentially harmful effects, refer to small size microplastics and, particularly, to the occurrence, fate, and effects of nanoplastics.


The authors acknowledge the support provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science through the Thematic Network of Micro- and Nanoplastics in the Environment (RED2018-102345-T, EnviroPlaNet)


Micro and nanoplastics in the environment - Research priorities for the near future.pdf